Despite repeated claims that he had been set up by Ferrari as the fall-guy in the 'spygate' affair, Nigel Stepney's name cropped up a lot during Thursday's World Motor Sport Council hearing in Paris.

According to the official report outlining the reasoning behind the verdict against McLaren, evidence provided at the initial July hearing revealed 'a limited number of contacts had occurred between [McLaren chief designer Mike] Coughlan and Stepney.

Coughlan's affidavit, submitted in the context of the High Court proceedings, also identified a number of similar contacts and described incidents where specific Ferrari confidential information was transferred to him. The WMSC considered these 'contacts' at the time, but had no specific evidence of further contact, and the focus at the meeting remained on the circumstances surrounding the transmission of the 780-page Ferrari dossier discovered at Coughlan's home.

Since that hearing, however, new evidence came to light which suggested that information passed between the two technical experts was not limited to the dossier, and showed that a far greater level of communication existed than was appreciated at the time. The evidence was submitted by Ferrari and is deemed credible as it originates from the Italian police and is the result of an official analysis of records of telephone, SMS and e-mail contacts between Coughlan and Stepney.

The evidence included several reports from the police detailing the number and time of telephone calls, text messages and e-mails. According to section four of the WMSC report, at least 288 SMS messages and 35 telephone calls appear to have passed between Coughlan and Stepney between 11 March and 3 July, and increased considerably during private tests carried out by Ferrari in Malaysia at the end of March and during the period of the opening three races of the season, in Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain.

Explaining how Ferrari had come to question Stepney's behaviour, police evidence claims that technical details were sought from Ferrari chief mechanic Federico Uguzzoni about test sessions in Malaysia in a way that aroused suspicion.

Although neither team has ever disputed that information was passed from Stepney to Coughlan, the new evidence suggests that it is likely that there was a systematic flow of data that went far above the dossier initially at the centre of the investigation. That conclusion was backed up by the e-mails exchanged between McLaren drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso discussing details not included in the dossier.

McLaren, however, maintains that Coughlan and Stepney were acting alone, possibly with the view to both joining a third team. This ties in with revelations that the pair had met with Honda's Nick Fry with a view to seeking future employment at Brackley, but the WMSC, while not drawing a definite conclusion, insisted that, had that been the plan, 'there would appear to be no particular reason for the contacts to have intensified around the tests and the grands prix', or for Coughlan to share information with de la Rosa and Alonso.

"In the absence of another explanation, in light of the number and timing of the communications between Coughlan and Stepney and the e-mail exchanges between the McLaren drivers, the WMSC regards it as reasonable to infer that Coughlan was in receipt of a flow of confidential Ferrari information from Stepney and that at least some of that information was communicated to others within McLaren," the report concluded.

 

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